FOR Lisa Vallo, painting is not just creative expression. It’s therapy.

“I’m not always well enough to paint - but when I can, it means everything,” says the Bingley artist. “I take out all my frustrations with my paints! I love to lose myself in a painting, it can be great therapy.”

Lisa has spent the best part of two decades living with a debilitating condition that often leaves her unable to get out of bed. She doesn’t know from one hour to the next how she’s going to feel, which affects every aspect of her life. And it all started with a tiny insect bite.

Lying in bed one morning, Lisa spotted a tiny mark on her tummy. It went on to turn her life upside-down. She has spent much of the past 16 years exhausted and occasionally bedridden. But recently she has returned to her artwork and now has a permanent exhibition in a Shipley gallery.

Lisa recalls the exact moment her life changed. “My cat was on the bed, I noticed a black mark on my tummy, which I thought it was a bit of dirt, but it wouldn’t move,” she says. “Eventually I pulled it off and could see the legs of this tiny creature wriggling. It was a tick, and I had no idea the damage it would cause.”

Lisa soon developed flu-like symptoms, and over the months and years she felt increasingly worse. “I lived in France for a few years and and I developed a Vitamin D deficiency and anaemia,” she says. “My legs felt heavy and ached and I had chest pains. I was in my thirties but felt tired all the time. At my lowest point I was spending 85 per cent of my week bedridden.”

It was watching a report about Lyme Disease on TV that Lisa finally realised what was wrong with her, but she has been unable to get a diagnosis in the UK.

Lyme Disease is caused by a spirochaetal bacteria, usually from a tick bite. Ticks are particularly present in woodland or heath-land areas, as well as urban parks and gardens. Symptoms can start with a ‘bull’s-eye’ rash, and include flu-like fever, sore muscles and a stiff neck. Left untreated, the infection can spread around the body, leading to possible musculoskeletal, cardiac, dermatological and neurological problems.

According to Lyme Disease UK, there are around 1,000 confirmed cases in the UK each year - but campaigners claim the figure could be closer to 50,000.

“My doctor kept telling me I didn’t have Lyme Disease, but I knew my symptoms,” says Lisa. “Many people with Lyme Disease are misdiagnosed with ME or even Alzheimer’s Disease. It can attack various parts of the body, and if it reaches the heart it can be fatal. Many cases are missed in the UK because there’s not considered to be much risk here. Yet if diagnosed quickly it can be cleared up within weeks with antibiotics.”

Frustrated at the lack of testing available, Lisa sent a blood sample to a lab in Germany. “Like America, they’re much more advanced with testing, diagnosis and treatment of Lyme Disease,” she says. “After 14 years of suffering, reaching the end of my tether trying to convince people I had it, I was finally diagnosed with it. I felt like I’d won the lottery! I cried with relief.

“But in this country, I’m still not diagnosed. Whenever I have a flare-up I can’t even call a doctor.”

Adds Lisa: “I can’t make any plans because I never know how I’m going to be. I had a good spell for a few months last year, when I started taking natural supplements to build my immune system, but over recent months I’ve developed intolerances to everyday things that I’ve always been okay with, which I think is part of having longterm Lyme Disease.

“I can’t even drink tap water now - it put me in bed for three months. I have to put bottled water through a filter before I can boil it. I only have to smell something, like bleach, and I have a flare-up. It’s like the flick of a switch. I feel like I’m coming down with flu and, my body aches and I have to lie down. I lie motionless for hours.”

Lisa’s illness has affected life at home with her children, Ysabella and Conor. “When they were younger I wasn’t able to do the school run some days. I couldn’t get out of bed.

“I don’t even know how I’m going to be from one hour to the next. I can be flat out for hours, days or months.”

Lisa finds painting theraputic. Her home is adorned with her colourful paintings, and she has created artworks for show-homes and corporate venues across the region.

“I’m not always well enough to paint, as it takes a lot out of me, but I’m doing some commissions and plan to build on that,” says Lisa. “I have a permanent exhibition at Artbound in Shipley - I’m the first artist to be offered a permanent position there - and I rotate my work every few weeks.

“And I have another exhibition coming up at Shipley Library from May 26 to June 9, with local arts organisation Not Just Hockney.

“Fortunately, my art studio is in my home so if I have a trigger and suddenly feel unwell I can go to bed.”

Lisa, who has cut out sugar, carbohydrates, dairy and lactose from her diet, has welcomed recent NICE guidelines, under which people can be treated for bites. “But that doesn’t help people like me, who are further down the line,” she adds.

“Treatment should be on the NHS, testing should be more in-depth, and diagnosis should be quicker. If you go straight to a doctor after being bitten, Lyme Disease can be detected in the blood. Undetected, you can have it for years, causing permanent health problems.

“For years I felt Lyme Disease was my ‘dictator’. Now, through diet and discovering what my intolerances are, I hope to get it under control - rather than letting it control me. It’s a daily battle.”

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